Vladan Matic, CEO of Kamenitza, on the tradition and ambition of Bulgaria's oldest beer brands
When we talk about brewery traditions in Bulgaria, Kamenitza is among the first names to come to mind. After all, it was the first: 140 years ago three Swiss nationals opened a proper brewery in Plovdiv. The Kamenitza brand was born. Today, it is a household name. The company's CEO, Vladan Matic, shares more on what makes Kamenitza special.
What does Kamenitza brand and beers look like on the company's 140th anniversary?
This is a very special year for Kamenitza. Our 140th anniversary is a big occasion for all of us and I am proud to be part of the Kamenitza family at this moment. No other beer brand in Bulgaria has marked such a jubilee so far. This is a first for the entire beer sector in the country and we, as pioneers of industrial brewing, consider it a key milestone in our development. To be the first is a huge responsibility. It is not a privilege granted, it is a privilege earned, forged with two hands, entrepreneurial spirit, passion, and constant drive to improve. To be the first does not only mean to pave the way, but to be known and followed as an example.
The traditions, history and attitude toward quality has accompanied Kamenitza throughout all these years. Today our people preserve and learn from, but also develop, the mastery of all those before us.
We wanted to celebrate by paying special attention to our hometown, Plovdiv. The city inspired Kamenitza's new visual identity. Now each bottle carries on its label Plovdiv emblematic elements and sites. We opened Kamenitza's first exhibition in Plovdiv, dedicated to the brand's connection with its hometown and the people that were and are part of the company – our founders, employees, customers, partners and all those who carry Kamenitza in their heart. Together with Red Cross Plovdiv and Pivovarnitza Kamenitza we will cook and provide 1881 meals to people in need. The initiative is a natural continuation of our Charity Kitchen from 2020. Football is big in Plovdiv so we gave each fan an opportunity to support their team with their favorite Kamenitza by trade activation and donating money to local clubs. We also support "More Bulgarians for Bulgaria," the initiative of Radio Vitosha's Trio at Dawn program with a portion of Kamenitza multipacks sales going for buying equipment for a hospital in Plovdiv.
This is what Kamenitza looks like on its 140th birthday. It is such an exciting year for all of us.
What are Kamenitza's goals and policies towards providing a healthy, welcoming and inclusive work environment?
For us the constant development of an inclusive, diverse, and collaborative environment where people will achieve a good work-life balance is key. This will inspire our employees to be the best in what they do while the company supports their personal health, happiness, and life goals.
As our HR Director Tsveta Velichkova shared during the Employer Branding panel of the Sound of Money Economic Forum, the Covid-19 situation helped employers to set new ways of working. Since then, we have implemented flexible working times, remote working for office-based employees, and longer non-paid creative leaves. We launched an Employee Assistance Program to support employees on psychological, legal and financial matters.
To create an environment where people thrive, one should think first about the diversity by attracting people from various backgrounds and with diverse viewpoints. This is what makes one company not only more creative and innovative, but also more successful. Despite the general view that the beer industry is more suitable for men, 50% of our local leadership team are women. We have many female colleagues in managerial and leading positions in the brewery and in the sales teams.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your work and how did you adapt in order to thrive?
Our first priority was to ensure the health and safety of our people. We provided the teams on the market and the brewery with the needed protective equipment. Our office-based people started working remotely. This resulted in 70% growth of employees who use online work applications, around 140% increase of usage of online tools, and 40% growth of the usage of Outlook via the cell phone instead of a laptop or a tablet.
We also needed to stabilize the business and support our partners. We donated over 10,000 multiple-use masks to our customers and distributors' employees. We also donated 15,000 liters of Staropramen to help places re-open after the lockdown. Together with Pivovarnitza Kamenitza, Red Cross Plovdiv and Plovdiv Municipality we reached more than 200 families in need. I am proud that the last two stories were featured in the first issue of the first magazine published by the Brewers of Europe association.
Why did you decide to pioneer Hard seltzer on the Bulgarian market?
In its 140-year history Kamenitza has always been the innovator. We created Bulgaria's first dark beer in 1892, first non-alcoholic beer in 2004, and first low-alcohol beer with fruit flavor in 2011. Now, in line with our global strategy to go beyond beer, we are launching Bulgaria's first hard seltzer – WAI Moment. This is an entirely new category on the local market. WAI Moment consists of sparkling water with refreshing taste and natural flavors, 4% alcohol content, below 99 kcal in a can. It is preservatives, sweeteners, colors and gluten free and is appropriate for vegans. The hard seltzer category has become an absolute hit in the last few years in the US and other parts of the world. This is a drink for the social media era and is for consumers on a constant search for new and exciting beverages that will complement their active lifestyle. As Central and Southeast European countries are increasingly embracing global consumption trends, a new category of a refreshing, different alcohol beverage will appeal to consumers there. WAI Moment comes in three flavors – Crazy Berry, Tropical Crew and Minty Lime Time, in a slim 330 ml can.
The Staropramen family has a new member. What makes Praha by Staropramen special?
We are proud to present the latest member of Staropramen family – Praha by Staropramen, a smooth beer with a bold taste for the new generation. We know our consumers are always looking out for the bold new ideas and modern, creative, exciting brands that reflect their values. The new generation of adult consumers demand different beer profiles, but also enjoy the full flavor of a high-quality beer. Praha brings together the boldness of Prague and the smoothness of pilsner lager. Its ambition is to become a leading premium beer thanks to a special combination of smooth taste and a bold flavor, perfectly created for diverse occasions.